Organic Farming

Jersey Girl Gone WWOOFing

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do.”

I have to agree, digging in the dirt is awesome.  Ever since I was a kid, I loved playing in my backyard, getting dirty looking for insects, building forts and splashing around in creeks looking for frogs and crayfish.  Being outside made me happy, and continues to make me happy in my twenties.  I was not surprised to find gardening at Raven Crest Botanicals therapeutic, but was a little surprised to find that I now agree with the defiance of gardening.

I began my act of rebellion when I became involved with WWOOF, at the suggestion of some of my college friends.  Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a program connects people who would like to learn more about the organic movement, permaculture and sustainable agriculture, with farmers who want to share their knowledge. No money is exchanged between host farms and “WWOOFers,” just room and board for the volunteers.

After a few weeks of e-mailing host farms, I found an herbalist in Upstate New York who didn’t mind having a blogger stay with her for a long weekend to learn more about organic foods.  I took a few days off work, said good-bye to the ocean and made my way up toward the Catskills.

Day 1: Wednesday


I arrived at Raven Crest Botanicals safe and sound after driving on some COUNTRY roads in torrential rain just in time to see a rainbow across the trees of the farm.  My host farmer, Susanna, was extremely kind and hugged me right away.  Another WWOOFer, named Thomas, was also staying with Susanna.  His knowledge of herbs and permaculture was impressive, having only been on the farm a month.  Thomas had come to Susanna after backpacking through India and teaching English to children in Chile.

After an amazing dinner of fresh vegetables, salad and fish, I listened to Susanna play the didgeridoo, learned what the hell a didgeridoo was, and acquainted myself with Tibetan singing bowls.  I felt a planet away from the Jersey Shore, which was alright with me.


Day 2: Thursday

I followed the other WWOOFer, Thomas, around like a puppy all day.  He taught me how to drive the 4-wheeler and explained permaculture guilds and sheet mulching to me.  We drove around looking for the supplies we needed, got slightly lost, tried to help a few turtles cross the road, gave apples and carrots to Susanna’s horses on a different farm, and at Gordon Farms (where we got the manure for the sheet mulching) I got to try to feed a calf that was just a few hours old.

Day 3: Friday

Kiss of Venus on the greenhouse door
Kiss of Venus on left

My third day was a bit of a lazy day, Thomas had left to go up to Massachusetts to buy an archery bow and I spent the day with Susanna.  She has such a wonderful aura and an incredibly powerful presence, I could listen to her tell me about her herbs, her “babies” all day.  I learned that a tonic herb can be taken every day, to help build up and enhance your system.  Elixirs usually contain boiled-down roots and honey, while tinctures are alcohol/water based.

We spent a lot of the day watering her plants.  I had no idea that most farmers spend at least 2 hours a day watering, when it rains too.  Even a good rain only goes through about a half an inch of soil.

I loved going in and out of the earth-sheltered, passive solar greenhouse on Susanna’s farm.  The door has the Kiss of Venus on it, which is a beautiful symbol of sacred geometry that is formed by the orbits that Earth and Venus make around each other.

Day 4: Saturday

Saturday was my favorite day on the farm.  Thomas and I went on another adventure in the old pickup truck to dumpster dive (reduce, reuse, recycle!) for more cardboard for sheet mulching and to get some bread.  Then, he took me to the dump…which was a lot more fun than it sounds.  We got some more cardboard there too.

Susanna at the Farmers Market
Susanna at the Farmers Market

We met up with Susanna and went to the Farmers Market in Berne.  After the market, we got ready to go to Woodstock.  Susanna was performing in a sound healing at SAGE Healing Center there with her friend Lea.  Thomas and I walked around Woodstock before the performance and I bought a turquoise ring from The Turquoise Lady who may or may not have wanted to make stones out of the color of Thomas’ eyes.  She was perfect for Woodstock.

Susanna and Lea’s sound healing incorporated didgeridoos, chimes, chanting and the singing bowls to send us all on our journeys.  It made me feel serene and balanced and gave me perspective.  I felt more like a being in the universe, instead of just a girl in Upstate NY.

After the sound healing, we went to pick up bees.  Susanna has one hive on her farm and wanted to start another one.  On country roads late at night in Hudson, NY, we somehow ended up in a scene straight out of Grapes of Wrath.  The bee keeper came out in suspenders and all his children ran out with him, barefoot and dirty.  Clothes were hanging on the line and I’d never seen so many stars.

Day 5: Sunday

On Sunday, I had to leave.  Which, quite frankly, sucked.  Every meal on the farm had been like a blessing, fresh, organic and wonderful.  No more swimming in the pond, drinking juices fermented by SCOBY (symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast) with Geranium ice cubes, watching “Drinkin’ Outta Cups” and laughing until my sides hurt, and spending time shoveling manure in the afternoon sun.  I made the best of it and had a great day setting up the bee hive.

Susanna and Thomas setting up the new hive.

I learned that two bee hives can coexist right next to each other because each queen has a different scent.  The bees would never fly into the “wrong” hive becomes it smells completely different.  I watched Susanna and Thomas gear up and take off the top of the box of bees.  Susanna took the queen (who was safely in a case sealed with sugar water) and put her in her pocket.  They shook the bees into the frames and put the queen in last.  Even though the bees were not raised with this queen, they will get used to her with time.  After a few days, the bees know her smell and will eat the sugar water cap off to release her from her case.

After the new bee hive was set up, Thomas and I took the 4-wheeler up to “The Vines,” one of my favorite places on the farm.  They are growing grape vines for wine up there and tilling some land to plant the Three Sisters.

The Vines
The Vines

Later that night on my way home, just like my way there, it down poured.  I like to think that the rain was cleansing me and symbolized some sort of rebirth back out into the world.

Susanna settled on the name Raven Crest for a few reasons, one of which being the symbolism of the raven in Native American culture.  They believed that the raven brought light to the world. Susanna and Raven Crest farm brought light into my world about how to live well, be well and treat others well and for that I am truly thankful.

Susanna and I in front of her greenhouse
Susanna and I in front of her greenhouse

Since I’ve been home from the farm, I haven’t had a so much as a sip of Diet Pepsi (I’m a recovering addict), have spent a decent amount of my paycheck at Trader Joe’s, committed to eating less beef and more seafood and veggies, and have looked into farmers markets in my area.  I even have a few small basil and parsley plants growing in my apartment.

Join me.  We don’t need GMOs, Monsanto and multinational corporations; we need to support our local farmers.  Start with small acts of defiance.  Let’s build a revolution.

I blog for MEN
As seen on Mother Earth News

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